David Barton: Was John Adams really an enemy of Christians? (Part 5)

1 Of 5 / The Bible’s Influence In America / American Heritage Series / David Barton

Evangelical leader Ken Ham rightly has noted, “Most of the founding fathers of this nation … built the worldview of this nation on the authority of the Word of God.” I strongly agree with this statement by Ham.

Dr. Michael Davis of California has asserted that he has no doubts that our President is a professing Christian, but his policies are those of a secular humanist. I share these same views. However, our founding fathers were anything but secular humanists in their views. John Adams actually wrote in a letter, “There is no authority, civil or religious – there can be no legitimate government – but that which is administered by this Holy Ghost.”

In June of 2011 David Barton of Wallbuilders wrote the article, “John Adams: Was He Really an Enemy of Christians?Addressing Modern Academic Shallowness,” and I wanted to share portions of that article with you.

 At WallBuilders, we are truly blessed by God, owning tens of thousands of original documents from the American Founding – documents clearly demonstrating the Christian and Biblical foundations both of America and of so many of her Founding Fathers and early statesmen. We frequently postoriginal documents on our website so that others may enjoy them and learn more about many important aspects of America’s rich moral, religious, and constitutional heritage that are widely unknown or misportrayed today.


American Founding Fathers and leaders (including John Adams) made a clear distinction between America’s Period III Christianity and Europe’s Period II Christianity. For example, Noah Webster emphatically declared:

The ecclesiastical establishments of Europe which serve to support tyrannical governments are not the Christian religion, but abuses and corruptions of it. 23

Daniel Webster agreed, rejoicing that American Christianity was . . .

Christianity to which the sword and the fagot [bundles of wood for burning individuals at the stake] are unknown – general tolerant Christianity is the law of the land! 24

Other Founding Fathers made similar distinctions, including John Jay (the original Chief Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court and a co-author of theFederalist Papers), who declared that the Period III Christianity practiced in America was “wise and virtuous,” 25 and John Quincy Adams described it as “civilized” 26 – terms certainly not associated with Period II Christianity.

Significantly, the six phrases identified above from Adams’ letter all refer to specific Period II perversions of orthodox Biblical teachings regarding the Holy Spirit; but Pinto, in his practice of Modernism and Minimalism, ignored allof Adams’ references to this. Consider what Pinto missed by disregarding Adams’ first three aforementioned phrases: “monarch to monarch,” “the holy oil in the vial at Rheims,” and “brought down from Heaven by a dove.”

In 496 AD in the city of Reims, Clovis was converted to Christianity and anointed King of France. Four centuries later, the Archbishop of Reims, attempting to convince the people that kings were the sovereign choice of God to rule the nation, claimed that when Clovis was about to be made king, the anointing oil could not be found. Perplexed as to what to do, the Archbishop claimed that God Himself miraculously sent from Heaven a dove (which church leaders believed to be the Holy Spirit) that carried down to earth a vial of special anointing oil.

This oil was kept in the Cathedral of Reims, and over the next millennia was used to anoint every French king (except one). Whenever the oil was moved or utilized in a coronation, it was accompanied by fifty guards, led by a high priest adorned in golden garb and jewels – reminiscent of the high priest in the Bible moving the Ark of the Covenant.

French tyrants in Church and State used this so-called “doctrine” that holy oil was carried from Heaven by the Holy Spirit to keep the people subjugated to the deplorable heresy of the Divine Right of Kings – a doctrine hated by every Reformation follower and student of the Bible. Thus Adams’ statement that “the Holy Ghost is transmitted from monarch to monarch by the holy oil in the vial at Rheims which was brought down from Heaven by a dove” is a direct reference to very specific and corrupt church doctrines of Period II.

Given the power that the oil of Reims exercised over the minds of the people, it is not surprising that monarchs in other nations, including England, wanted something similar for their own use. English king Edward II (1284-1327 AD) therefore claimed that the anointing oil he used for his coronation was given by the Virgin Mary directly to St. Thomas of Canterbury, who performed the ceremony. This vial of oil was kept safely sequestered under lock and key, to be used only for anointing new kings. This is what Adams described as “that other phial [vial] which I have seen in the Tower of London.” Adams had been America’s diplomat to France and to England, and he had first-hand knowledge of how their “holy” oil and its accompanying doctrine was used in both countries to subjugate the people under the influence of “kingcraft” and “priestcraft” – two more key phrases that Pinto also disregarded.

Adams despised the claim that either the French and British vials of oil had been brought from Heaven by the Holy Spirit. He believed that this false doctrine had caused incomparable suffering in the world. The French people finally came to the same conclusion, for following the French Revolution, they entered the Cathedral at Reims and broke the vial of oil so that it could never again be used to anoint another French tyrant to rule their nation.

Now having a general grasp of this period of both church and world history to which Adams specifically refers in his letter, reexamine his words with this background in mind.

Adams begins by first establishing the accepted doctrine of the Holy Spirit according to Period III Reformation Christianity, telling Rush:

But my friend there is something very serious in this business. The Holy Ghost carries on the whole Christian system in this Earth. Not a baptism, not a marriage, not a sacrament can be administered but by the Holy Ghost, Who is transmitted from age to age by laying the hands of the bishop on the heads of candidates for the ministry. 27

This statement is sound, solid, orthodox Christian doctrine. But Adams then contrasts that positive statement about the Holy Spirit with the perverted doctrine from Period II:

In the same manner, as the Holy Ghost is transmitted from monarch to monarch by the holy oil in the vial at Rheims which was brought down from Heaven by a dove and by that other phial [vial] which I have seen in the Tower of London. 28

Notice his use of the very important phrase: “In the same manner, as . . .” That is, having stated the right doctrine of the Holy Ghost, he now looks at the distortion of it – at how it was presented falsely “in the same manner,” but this time not in regards to “candidates for the ministry” (i.e., the Church, which is the proper use), but rather by wrongly teaching that the Holy Ghost is transferred from king to king (i.e., the State, which is not the proper use) by way of the oil brought from Heaven. Concerning this perverted view of the Holy Spirit from Period II, Adams laments:

Although this is all artifice and cunning in the sacred original in the heart, yet they all believe it so sincerely that they would lay down their lives under the ax or the fiery fagot [bundle of wood used for burning individuals at the stake] for it. Alas, the poor weak ignorant dupe, human nature. There is so much king craft, priest craft, gentlemens craft, peoples craft, doctors craft, lawyers craft, merchants craft, tradesmens craft, laborers craft, and Devils craft in the world that it seems a desperate [hopeless] and impractical project to undeceive it. 29

Adams clearly is not condemning Christianity or Biblical doctrine regarding the Holy Ghost, but is rather reproaching its twisting during Period II, noting that those who follow the Divine Right of Kings maldoctrine are willing to die for their belief “under the ax or the fiery fagots,” and thus suffer from that “poor weak ignorant dupe, human nature” – that is, human depravity is on full display, and so thoroughly convinced of the truth of this maldoctrine were its followers that it even seemed a waste of time to Adams to try to convince them otherwise.

By the way, many today do not understand the historical use of the term “priestcraft”; it is not a derogatory term used against ministers of the Gospel. As explained by one of the most famous evangelical Christian preachers of the Founding Era, Baptist minister John Leland:

By Priest-Craft, no contempt is designed to be cast upon any of the Lord’s priest’s, from Melchizedeck to Zecharias, nor upon any of the ministers of Christ, either those who have been remarkably endowed with power from on high to work miracles, &c. or those of ordinary endowments, who have been governed by supreme love to the Savior and benevolence to mankind. These, to the world, have been like the stars of night. But by priest-craft is intended the rushing into the sacred work for the sake of ease, wealth, honor, and ecclesiastical dignity. Whether they plead lineal succession or Divine impulse, their course is directed for self-advantage. By good words and fair speeches, they deceive the simple; and [use] solemn threatening of fines, gibbets [the gallows], or the flames of hell to those who do not adhere to their institutes. 30

But to Americans such as John Leland and John Adams, the possibility of government officials placing church officials over America (i.e., “kingcraft” and “priestcraft”) was not something of the ancient past – it was still a potential imminent danger to be feared and fiercely repelled. In fact, John Adams repeatedly avowed that one of the principal causes behind the American Revolution had been the possibility of having the king appoint a bishop over America. 31

21. John Wise, A Vindication of the Government of New-England Churches (Boston: John Boyles, 1772), p. 6. (Return)

22. J. M. Mathews, The Bible and Civil Government, in a Course of Lectures (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1851), p. 231. (Return)

23. Noah Webster, History of the United States (New Haven: Durrie & Peck, 1832), p. 339. (Return)

24. Daniel Webster, Mr. Webster’s Speech in Defense of the Christian Ministry and In favor of the Religious Instruction of the Young. Delivered in the Supreme Court of the United States, February 10, 1844, in the Case of Stephen Girard’s Will (Washington: Gales and Seaton, 1844), p. 52. (Return)

25. William Jay, The Life of John Jay (New York:J. &J. Harper, 1833), p. 80, from his “Charge to the Grand Jury of Ulster County” on September 9,1777.(Return)

26. John Quincy Adams, An Oration Delivered Before the Inhabitants of the Town of Newburyport at Their Request on the Sixty-First Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence (Newburyport: Charles Whipple, 1837), p. 17.(Return)

27. John Adams letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush on December 21, 1809, from an original in our possession (see original at:http://www.wallbuilders.com/LIBissuesArticles.asp?id=59755). (Return)

28. John Adams letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush on December 21, 1809, from an original in our possession (see original at:http://www.wallbuilders.com/LIBissuesArticles.asp?id=59755). (Return)

29. John Adams letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush on December 21, 1809, from an original in our possession (see original at:http://www.wallbuilders.com/LIBissuesArticles.asp?id=59755). (Return)

30. John Leland, The Writings of the Late Elder John Leland, Including Some Events in His Life (New York: G. W. Wood, 1845), p. 484. (Return)

31. John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Charles Francis Adams, editor (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1856), Vol. X, p. 185, to Dr. Jedediah Morse on December 2, 1815. See also letter from John Adams to Jonathan Mason on August 31, 1820 (at:http://www.natedsanders.com/ItemInfo.asp?ItemID=33275). (Return)

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